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ICS to UN: governments must act to save thousands of migrants' lives

ICS to UN: governments must act to save thousands of migrants' lives
The International Chamber of Shipping will urge EU governments at an IMO meeting tomorrow to save the lives of thousands of migrants by intervening in the "humanitarian crisis" in the Mediterranean Sea.

The IMO is hosting a high-level meeting of UN agencies and concerned parties in London on 4 March to address "Unsafe Mixed Migration by Sea". According to the IMO over 200,000 people were rescued in 2014 during "unsafe, irregular and illegal" passages on the Mediterranean, with reports of more than 3,500 deaths.

The passage of refugees and immigrants on small vessels is also a cause for concern from a security standpoint as Libya in particular continues to fall under the control of Islamic State, which has stated its intention to cause chaos in Southern Europe via the Mediterranean.

More than 600 merchant ships have been diverted to rescue migrants. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that 40,000 people were rescued my merchant ships during 2014, with the expectation that the number will rise in 2015.

“The response to the crisis by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard continues to be incredibly impressive,” said ICS secretary general, Peter Hinchliffe. “But the situation is now so serious that all EU Member States need to become more engaged. The shipping industry’s concern is that, following the end of Mare Nostrum, other governments are increasingly relying on merchant ships to undertake more and more large-scale rescues.”

Operation Mare Nostrum was an initiative launched by the Italian Navy in 2013 that saw the deployment of Naval assets to address the migration problem. In the space of one year 421 operations rescued 150,810 migrants, seized five mother ships and brought 330 alleged smugglers to justice.

The EUR9m per month operation which operated within Italian and international waters has been replaced by the EU-funded Triton operation, which has a EUR3m budget and only operates within 30 miles of the Italian coast and is focused on border protection.

The international shipping industry is obliged to come to the aid of those at distress at sea, however “some ships have had to rescue as many as 500 people at a time, with serious implications for the welfare of ships’ crews given the health and security issues involved in dealing with such large numbers. This goes well beyond what should reasonably be expected of merchant seafarers,” said Hinchliffe.

“The EU in particular needs to provide refugees and migrants with alternative means of finding safety without risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in boats that are unseaworthy and operated by unscrupulous criminals. It is imperative to avoid the impression that a potentially fatal sea crossing in a tiny overcrowded boat is the only realistic pathway to Europe,” said Mr Hinchliffe.

In the mean time, the ICS has insisted that EU Member States should support Italian search and rescue operations and the increasingly untenable efforts of the merchant ships in th region.